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DPS restructuring plans: Darn the people, full speed ahead!

[UPDATED with House-passed plan] After many years under state control - fourteen of the last seventeen - Detroit Public Schools has reached a critical juncture: the district and its emergency management projects that it will run out of money to operate its schools before the end of the current school year. Politicos of all stripes have known this day was coming, and there have been competing proposals on what to do about it. Last year, a coalition of Detroit leaders, parents and citizens - many of them bitter enemies - sat down and hammered out a compromise document that might lead the city’s schools out of the crisis. [See plan comparisons below.] It was a tenuous compromise, with many details remaining to be worked out (and some coalition members have a deep concern that local voices were not in fact heard). But it was a blueprint grudgingly accepted by the people on the spot. The reaction in Lansing? Dismissive statements and knowing smiles. A locally-developed plan wasn’t “on their agenda.”

Any of this sound familiar? Perhaps it bears some resemblance to how the people of Flint were treated when they complained about being poisoned by their municipal water supply? The underlying cause is the same: in both the executive branch and the legislature, what “the people” really want doesn’t matter half as much as what these exalted folks think is best for us, based on their own ideology or technocratic worldview. Detroit may be the most visible example right now, but as Flint proves, it was not the first and - unless we stand together - it will not be the last.

Legislative update: State control worked so well, let's do it again!

Dear Friends,
 

First look: Snyder FY16-17 school aid budget

It's February, and as most of you know that means it's Budget time in Lansing. (You were thinking hearts and chocolate?)

Governor Rick Snyder presented his recommended budget last week to a packed room. The focus, not surprisingly, was on the water crisis in Flint and the restructuring of Detroit Public Schools. But the budget determines what kind of education can be offered to every child in the state, and the important bits are often in the details. At first glance, parent advocates have reason to be modestly pleased, though the reality is not as pretty as the picture painted on the cover. What happens in the end, however, depends on what comes out after the document has been reflected in the legislative funhouse mirrors - which may or may not resemble the original.

A little bit more
The governor's executive budget recommendation is headlined by a modest increase in per-pupil funding. Districts at the current minimum level of $7,391 - which includes some 60% of all students - would receive $120 more per pupil for their general operating needs. Districts at or above the state maximum (currently $778 higher or $8,169) would get an increase of $60 per pupil.

For most students, then, that means a funding increase of 1.6% - just a tad more than the projected inflation rate of 1.2%. But a goodly number of students will get a smaller relative increase: 0.7% or less, lagging inflation.

Advocacy update: briefing on the 3rd grade reading bill

Dear Friends,

I know you've been hearing a lot from me about this "third grade reading" bill that's in the Michigan House of Representatives. Sometimes events don't give you the time to explain as much as you'd like about what is at stake. So, I wanted to take a moment to brief you on what we're doing.

When we work in Lansing, we try to focus on getting good policy passed - and we are willing to work with anyone who is ready to do right by our kids. This bill is an example: it's got good parts, and bad parts. We've been working to make the good parts better and get the bad parts out.

Some thoughts on the 3rd grade reading bill

A bill intended to promote comprehensive reading intervention services has generated a lot of controversy lately, because of its origins in last session's infamous "third grade flunking" bill. But the proposal is very different this time around, and I wanted to offer some insight into what we at MIPFS have been doing on this issue. As of this writing, we are reserving judgement on the bill but have been working with lawmakers to improve it.

Detroit: thin end of the wedge

Governor Rick Snyder's proposal to restructure Detroit Public Schools is carefully framed to emphasize delivering a quality education to underserved children and careful management of finances. But as with so many education policies these days, which claim to focus on the needs of "children, not adults," the reality is quite different.

To no one's great surprise, his plan bears little resemblance to the plan put forward by a broad-based coalition of Detroit stakeholders issued just weeks ago. Instead, the Governor's plan bundles together a number of policy tools which have been spectacular failures when used separately. Perhaps we are to embrace the notion that, in Michigan, three wrongs do make a right?

School Aid Budget - policymaking as theater

The last of three budget proposals for next year was presented in Lansing yesterday. On Wednesday, the Senate appropriations subcommittee on school aid endorsed its chairman's budget proposal, just as the corresponding House committee had done the day before. These two proposals join Gov. Snyder's proposed budget, offered in February. Now we enter the second act.

As is so often the case, the public portion of these proceedings resembles theater more than open discussion. The Governor proposes his budget with much fanfare to a joint meeting of the legislative appropriations committees. Then the subcommittees begin their work, going through the motions of asking invited guests to proffer advice. But during this time, backroom negotiations ensue, out of the pubic eye. This week, to get the budgets off their plates before the legislature's spring break, the subcommittees met again. The results of the backroom negotiations were rolled out, admired, subjected to some pro-forma criticism from the opposing party, and in due course approved and sent on their way to the full appropriations committees. All according to the script. The public was definitely NOT invited to participate. The outcome was never in doubt.

These competing proposals are really the opening offers in a game of political "Pit" which will also take place mostly out of the public eye. No one but well-heeled lobbyists are invited. But we end up living the consequences of the horse-trading we cannot see.

Sign our open letter - state takeover is not the answer

Last week, Governor Rick Snyder unilaterally stripped the Michigan Department of Education of responsibility for intervening in struggling schools.

His executive order moved that responsibility to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, on the specious grounds that DTMB's role in running the state's school database somehow gives them expertise on turning around troubled schools. In fact, as the text of the order makes clear, Gov. Snyder is impatient with MDE - which answers to the elected State Board of Education - for not acting faster to take over schools. So, by moving that authority to DTMB, the governor also places that function directly under his own control.

At MIPFS, we felt this state-takeover system was bad idea from the time it was adopted in a mad rush five years ago. The fact that MDE has not taken over any schools under this provision may be an acknowledgement of what we already know: state takeover is no miracle cure. But instead of taking a better path, such as one we proposed in draft legislation last session, Gov. Snyder is determined to pursue takeover - despite the evident failures of emergency managers and the EAA to make real progress in helping schools struggling with child poverty.

Please join us in objecting to this deeply flawed policy. Follow this link to sign our open letter to Gov. Snyder and state leaders. Takeover by some distant bureaucracy is not the way to help our most vulnerable students. If we let this action stand, what takeover strategy will come next? Please speak out and sign today!

Time to stop using kids' schools as a cookie jar

When does a "supplemental" spending bill not actually supplement anything? When it's a "negative supplemental," of course! (In everyday language, that's a mid-year budget cut.) Who is being "negatively supplemented"? Our children.

It turns out that our state government is in the hole some $532 million for the current year because some tax credit promises to business made years ago are being presented for payment. In characteristic fashion, however, our state government has chosen to partly duck the issue by taking money from - you guessed it - our K-12 public schools. To the tune of $250 million. It's like a rerun of a bad TV sitcom.

Teaching to teach to the test?

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes that we need to improve our country's teacher preparation programs - and that we need to use student growth and achievement data to do it.

For several years now, the US Dept of Education has been discussing proposed rules which would require states to rate their colleges of education and like programs. These ratings would also affect eligibility for Federal dollars. As a part of this effort, USED has wanted to include student test scores ("achievement" and/or "growth" data) as part of the ratings - that is test scores of K-12 students who were taught by recent graduates education degree programs. A special committee, comprised of numerous stakeholders, worked nearly a year to come to agreement on new rules, but was unable to do so. So, the Department has gone ahead with it's own ideas of how the people who teach teachers should be evaluated.

The window to comment on these rules closes 2 February 2015; you can read the details and submit your own comments to Federal regulators via this link. For those who might struggle to find the right words, we reprint our own comments, submitted earlier today, below. We hope that we were able to articulate just a few of the many objections to using standardized test scores in this manner.

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MIPFS is working with parent group 482Forward, ACLU Michigan, and many school groups to ensure public funding goes to public schools.


MIPFS also contributed considerable background to this article, raising serious questions about the strategy of closing schools.


MIPFS presents to the State Board of Education


Founder of our Forest Hills affiliate testifies before State Board, 9 May 2013


Our op-ed on the EAA's failure and why the Parent Proposal embodied in HB 5268 is a better alternative. MLive.com, 9 Feb 2014


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